Health officials warned that more preventive measures need to be taken against AIDS in the light of predictions that the number of patients infected with the disease will increase to 34,881 cases by 2010, adding significantly to the burden on the National Health Insurance program.
According to Center of Disease Control (CDC) officials, intravenous drug users form a core group of patients infected with AIDS.
Statistics for last year showed that out of 3,105 new AIDS cases reported, 2,055 were intravenous drug users. Officials predict that by 2011, 18,000 intravenous drug users will be infected with AIDS.
According to Alex Wodak and Kate Dolan, who are drug abuse prevention experts from Australia, the growing number of drug users infected with AIDS in Taiwan is similar to the trend in other Asian countries and in Eastern Europe.
Deputy director of the CDC Lin Ting (林頂) said, "Our AIDS harm reduction campaign for drug users operates on four levels: counseling, education, free provision of clean needles and methadone treatment."
According to Wodak, a core part of harm reduction treatment is helping drug addicts with their psychological problems.
At present, the provision of free needles and methadone treatment is implemented in four cities and counties, including Taipei and Taoyuan cities and Taipei and Tainan counties.
Presently, costs for the medical care of AIDS patients are covered by the CDC. According to calculations conducted by the National Health Insurance Bureau (NHIB) and the CDC, between 2006-2010, medical treatment costs for AIDS patients will amount to NT$31.89 billion (US$520 million).
CDC officials predict that unless preventive campaigns are put in place, the number of AIDS patients will increase from 5,947 in 2004 to around 34,881 by 2010, while medical expenditure will increase from NT$1.2 billion (US$36 million) in 2004 to NT$11.2 billion in 2010. This will average out to NT$480 per person based on a population of 23.43 million.
Deputy Managing Director of the NHIB Lee Cheng-hua (